SUSE Linux implemented the SmartClient architecture on Linux for Debeka, one of Germany's largest insurance and financial services groups. More than 3,000 workstations in over 230 locations throughout Germany are now administered cost-efficiently and conveniently from the company headquarters in Koblenz, Germany.
The increasing perfomance of workstations is accompanied by a growing scope and complexity of application programs. For IT decision makers in companies with multiple subsidiaries, the maintenance and release changes of these programs constitute a logistical and technical challenge. Every manipulation of the operating system structure inevitably influences the stability of the overall system. This situation can be obliterated through the SmartClient architecture that makes all applications available, administerable, and executable on central servers. The multi-user capabilities of SUSE Linux is the basis for this on both the client side as well as on the server side.
Overnight Software Updates
As smaller Debeka subsidiaries with up to ten employees are connected to the headquarters over an inexpensive 64 kBit/s line, the decision was made in favor of SUSE SmartClient solution, to make moderate use of the bandwidth for the central distribution and administration of software. From now on, installation of updates or new software is performed remotely from the headquarters in Koblenz. In order to facilitate this, a reference host is equipped and maintained with the standard software that is compulsory for all workstations. In case of heterogeneous client workstations in the subsidiaries, more reference hosts are used to mirror the different workstation types.
The Rsync service is used for synchronizing the reference host with the workstations, copying files via the network. The special advantage of this service: Rsync only copies the information, which is not already available on the target system. As bandwidth is often a limiting factor, files are transmitted in compressed form, making only moderate use of the WAN bandwidth. The final step of the intelligent update is the distribution of the software via the LAN to the various PCs in the subsidiary. During this process, a Linux host assumes the role of a cache server, saving bandwidth and time. The exact update procedure in the subsidiaries is controlled by respective entries in the central directory service: the server-side update script addresses only one host in each subsidiary. This host loads the latest image version and becomes the caching image server. Subsequently, the host transmits the update to all other hosts of the subsidiary.
A combination of various platform-independent server services enables the easy remote administration from Debeka's headquarters in Koblenz. The core of the architecture is the directory service LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol), which resembles a database. The LDAP server maintains all details regarding the entire system, including hardware configuration, software releases of all clients and servers, and network parameters. This enables all other services like DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) and DNS (Domain Name Service) to be configured automatically. Newly connected hosts are auto-detected and relevant hardware components are entered in the LDAP server. The LDAP standard is supported by a large number of products, e.g. the free OpenLDAP server or the Novell Directory Server (NDS/eDirectory).
Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device
Apart from cost advantages due to the central administration, the new infrastructure also results in a number of improvements for the workstation users. Regardless of the end device, users have access to accustomed applications from any location in optimum performance conditions. In addition to the applications operating under Linux, other systems with Linux client software can also be integrated. Debeka wanted to run all the important applications at the headquarters and make them available via Web. Debeka's existing Windows applications were integrated by ICA clients (Independent Computing Architecture) from Citrix. As the SmartClient architecture can be freely expanded with ERP systems, messaging solutions, or document management systems, it provides long-term investment security in the face of constantly growing requirements.
The Debeka group, based in Koblenz, Germany, is one of Germany's largest company groups in the insurance and financial services sector. With 1.7 million insurants, Debeka's health insurance is the market leader among private health insurance companies. In the life insurance sector, too, Debeka is one of the Top Ten of more than 130 companies. The group's building society is on rank four among Germany's private companies. For more information please check http://www.debeka.de.
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